Tag Archives: Change

Befriend Yourself

When planning my gap year for grown-ups, I made a conscious decision to put myself in the way of as much beauty as possible. Paris. Florence. London. Edinburgh. Museums + galleries. Epic walks along historic rivers. Plays + play. Live music. Talks by writers. The luxury of time to write and think and create.

The thing I could not have predicted is how very much I’m also putting myself in the way of new challenges. And how much I’m growing.

As I shared in our Sunday Reader a month ago, I’m an anxious sort of bear. Regardless of how together I seem from the outside, it takes a lot of effort and courage for me to travel on my own, to learn new neighbourhoods, to navigate the metro and to fly solo.
Please know that I’m not complaining. I signed up for this and it is mostly glorious… but some of it is not. Actually, that seems like a pretty good description of life. Mostly glorious. Sometimes not.

Yesterday was a bit of a day, travel-wise. I flew from Charles de Gaulle in Paris to London Heathrow (neither of which are famously wonderful transportation hubs) and everywhere there was a line, it was long and filled with really angry travellers. At CDG, the wait at Customs was epic but I knew it would be so I had left myself lots of time. The people around me, however, were furious. The woman directly behind me was in a terrible hurry and, every time we took a step forward, she bumped into me with her suitcase. A man at the front of the line yelled at an airport employee who took a traveller in a wheelchair before him. I felt overwhelmed but there was nothing I could do. As I peeled off my sweater, I realized that I was starting to panic even though I knew I had lots of time to make my flight.

The first thing I did was to breathe. {Sometimes we forget.} I inhaled deeply through my nose and held that breath for about three seconds. Then I exhaled slowly through my mouth and relaxed my neck and shoulders. I breathed deeply, in this way, for a few minutes. Then I found a spot on the floor about ten feet away from me and just rested my gaze there. Gently. I continued to breathe and emptied my mind as much as I could. Of course, random thoughts popped up, and the sounds of Charles de Gaulle intruded from time, but I just let the thoughts and noises come and then go and I went on breathing. I meditated in the best way I could in the middle of the line at Customs.

After ten minutes, I felt calm. I was able to think more kindly about this woman behind me who might be feeling panicked about missing a flight and the man who lost his cool at the front of the line. It’s not like I gave them a hug or anything that dramatic, I just changed the way I was thinking. A few minutes later, I noticed that the woman behind me had stopped bumping into me.

I shit you not. It was magic.

By befriending myself first and then extending that circle of calm, I was able to make a situation that felt tough and jagged a bit better. Softer. Adopting an attitude of love and patience created more space in that line. {I love the word “spaciousness.”} It certainly felt like magic to me.

How could you befriend yourself today to create a little magic for yourself and the people in your life?
How would it feel to speak to yourself a little more gently? The next time you feel tempted to criticize yourself (I’m so stupid! | I never learn | How could I have forgotten this? | I’m so disorganized | This is all my fault), try to breathe and say something kind to yourself.

Try something like: “I know you’re feeling really frustrated right now. You are really doing your best though, aren’t you? And you love your family so much and you always want to do your very best for them. What do you need right now? Shall we sit for a minute? Shall we have a cup of tea?”

Have a cup of tea. Breathe. Befriend yourself. You can call it self compassion or kindness or even magic, if you wish. I promise it will help.
*This post was originally published as a Sunday Reader. To receive my love letters directly in your inbox twice a month, you can subscribe here.

What are you a warrior for?


The message above is from Danielle LaPorte; I have her #Truthbomb App on my phone which means that I get a new message every day from Danielle/The Universe. A few days ago the #Truthbomb was, “What are you a warrior for?”

Such a good question! I started making a list:
* Truth
* Growth/Change
* Feminism
* Stories/Art
* Teenagers and young adults
* Love

What’s on your warrior list?

Looking over the map of 2016, I can trace my routes towards all the ideas on this list. Some are well worn footpaths such as the work that I do with kids every day or running the Poet Laureate course. Other journeys have left fresher tracks. These are the big bold leaps.

When you look at your own voyage through 2016, are you surprised at the paths you took? Would you like to change directions for 2017? What would you like to move towards?


In the twilight of this past year, Damien and I bought a house in a small fishing village outside Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. We took possession on December 20th and have spent our Christmas vacation here with a minimum of furniture and a maximum of joy. Our house is small and yellow. It is 104 years old and has beautiful wooden floors and only one closet. It’s a five minute walk from the sea. For a few years, we’ll be here during our long school breaks and then it’s our plan to live here full-time.


During the 2017-2018 school year, I’ll be taking a Gap Year for Grown Ups. Damien will continue his work at our school in Japan so Yokohama will be our home base and I will… well, that’s the funny thing… I’m not sure what I’ll do. For more than 25 years, I’ve worked full-time in the service of others and next year I’m going to put myself first and see how that feels. Although planning is normally my thing, I’m going to let the year unfold and see where it takes me. Perhaps I’ll write. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to do some contract work with kids and teachers and counselors at some international schools. I’m going to have more joy.

I welcome your ideas for my gap year. Just leave me a note in the comments for this post or on Facebook. Thanks!

Finally, Happy New Year to you, dear one!

Yesterday, on Facebook, I wrote: “Thank you, 2016, for all the lessons you tried to teach us. May our hearts and minds be open and more receptive in 2017.”

I’m not mad at 2016. We lost some good people but we got amazing new people as well… and we made and witnessed beautiful things and the golden light here makes me think of Italy and there are these miraculous connections between us that shimmer and dance like small white Christmas lights wound around a porch.

Welcome, 2017! May we join forces in the creation of a luminous new year.

Big hugs.


P.S. This message was originally published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters directly in your mailbox, you can sign up here.


Turtle Steps


Recently I’ve been making some changes. Let’s call them microchanges. It sounds less scary.

Over the past twenty years, we’ve worked at international schools in Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Thailand and Japan so it wouldn’t be SO crazy for you to think that I’d be really good at change. Comfortable at the very least. Masterful even. The truth is that I sort of suck. When it comes to structure and routine, I live at the very outer limits of what is possible for a person who has created a life overseas. That is to say that if I needed more structure, even the tiniest bit more, I could not have left home and thrived.

Right. So not so great at change.

Lately, however, Life has been tapping its foot with growing impatience. Life, as it turns out, does not like to be kept waiting and is not even remotely interested in my reluctance to change things up. Writing, in particular, has been behaving badly and kicking up a terrible fuss in the back seat of my life.

I have two Young Adult novel projects simmering in my creative-cauldron. The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa is on its 3rd draft and I’m currently writing the first draft of After Everything which began as my NaNo WriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novel last November. The story opens with a teenager named Claire who wakes up in a lush green field. She’s dressed in a long white nightgown that she senses she would never have chosen for herself and she doesn’t know where she is and she can’t remember how she got there… or anything else about her life. It turns out that she is dead.

So although I’m super excited about both stories, I’ve been feeling frustrated about not making much progress since January. “Not much progress” is a lie. It was no progress at all. In the place of actual writing, I had been just thinking about my novels which is not at all the same thing and does not get the job done.

I decided to make a change.

Are you at your best in the morning or late at night? For me, eleven o’clock at night sounds like a great time to START writing but that doesn’t allow me to get enough sleep to function during the work day. I am such a night owl, in fact, that I’ve always told myself a story in which I could not possibly get up any earlier. Because I need eight full hours of sleep, I had convinced myself that going to bed earlier would make me feel (not vaguely but PRECISELY) like a very old + very sad person.

But what if that story wasn’t true?

So I set my alarm clock for six o’clock instead of seven o’clock. If you are an early riser, try to be compassionate about this because, for me, six o’clock is still the middle of the night. When I woke up to my alarm the first day, I got right out of bed and went to grab my computer from my knapsack only to realize that I hadn’t brought it home from school so, instead, I wrote in a journal with pink flamingoes on the cover. And the words just poured out of me, ten pages of words, and I thought, “Shit. This is magical.” And I am not gonna lie, I was tired at two o’clock in the afternoon and getting into bed at nine o’clock that night was not magical but it was okay. So I wrote in my journal for three mornings in a row and I tried not to think about the question of when I would type up these pages and how long that task would take. Then, on the fourth morning, I tried writing on my laptop and I had a hard time getting started so I stared at the ceiling for a while and then that got boring so I started writing. And what I write between six and seven is not always eloquent prose but sometimes it is and the plot keeps marching forward with courage and assurance and the characters keep doing interesting things and Claire is even more rebellious than I imagined and I have enormous patience for her neuroses and fear and I love her like a parent might love a child. And one morning, when I awoke at six o’clock, I realised that I didn’t feel well so I re-set my alarm clock for seven o’clock and I slept soundly for that extra hour and had a good day at work and I didn’t let myself freak out or worry that I had messed it all up. I just chose not to believe that. The next day, when the alarm went off, I got up and wrote.

Since I began my early morning writing, I read about what Martha Beck calls “turtle steps” or small steps in the direction of your dreams. That was exactly what I was doing. I didn’t quit my job or begin writing for six hours a day, forsaking all fun things in my life; I simply adjusted my schedule slightly to include one hour of writing every morning. On the round table at my office there is a wooden turtle I bought in Bali several years ago and I’ve started to look at him differently in these past few weeks. Wise old turtle. And I’ve been wondering what else I could take some turtle steps towards.

Then, a few days after encountering the idea of “turtle steps”, I was listening to a podcast where the interviewee shared a quote by Donald Miller: “Turn your toes towards the thing that you are afraid to pursue.” That resonated too. Sometimes we’re afraid to pursue the things we most want so we keep getting in our own way, making up excuses and unhelpful stories. We need to turn our toes ever so slightly.

As of today, I have written 25,000 words of After Everything. Of that total, I have written 15,000 of those words over the last two weeks, in the hours between six and seven o’clock in the morning.

Although I’m a pretty confident person, I did not know that I could do that. I had told myself a story that was holding me back. And that story, as it turns out, is just not true.

We should not believe everything we think.

Taking the turtle steps in writing this novel has made me giddy and hopeful. I’m also taking turtle steps to give up caffeine. It’s not sexy but it’s good.

So I wondered, lovely one, what stories are getting in your way… and what turtle steps might you take to get you closer, little by little, to something that would fill you with joy?


This post was first published as The Sunday Reader. To receive The Sunday Reader directly in your inbox every two weeks, you can subscribe here.

I’d love it if you would share this post.

Make Your Own Rules

{First published in The Sunday Reader on Sunday 3 January 2016.}
I’ve always been a people pleaser. As I emerged from the womb, pink-faced and gasping for my first breath, I’m pretty sure I was already scanning the room, trying to figure out how to make those people happy. And that worked out, more or less well, until it didn’t which is, perhaps, the experience of every woman allowed to think for herself.

Here’s the thing: we cannot MAKE other people happy. They are either happy or they are not. This is not actually your responsibility and the really bad news is that in your efforts to please them, you run the danger of re-arranging your beautiful atoms into something resembling a doormat.

This is not a sustainable model for a joyful, thriving life. We’re going to have to learn how to work as hard at pleasing ourselves as we do at pleasing others. Isn’t that both scary and delicious? This is my New Year’s wish for you… that you begin (or continue) to make your own rules. Here are some ideas…

*Know yourself. There’s no one else quite like you. If you’re an Introvert, you’ll probably need to stay home more than your extroverted friends. Stop apologising for that. Get into your flannel jammies and figure out your own idea of a good time.
* Get married or don’t. Take your partner’s name or hyphenate or perhaps she or he could take your last name. Have four kids. Choose not to have children at all. Love other people’s kids instead.
* Ask for the job title of the job you are actually doing. Ask for more money for the work that you do.
* Dye your hair purple or let your hair grow out white and beautiful.
* Lead sometimes… and also follow.
* Buy a tiny house. Rent until you die.
* When service is bad, speak up. Politely.
* When the talk at the lunch table is always focused on exercise and “good” and “bad” foods and that’s not your idea of a nurturing conversation, ask if anyone has read any good books lately. Or change lunch tables. Or bring your own lunch and eat in the park.
* If you are a woman, you already know that being a woman is not fair. How can you help? Where do you need to put your foot down? At our school we teach kids that girls are not things and that it’s not their job to be pretty. Some students don’t believe us but some do… and that might help them get to the good life-stuff faster. That is true for both girls and boys.
* Make your own church. Choose your own choir. It might be the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton or Adele’s 25. Celebrate whomever or whatever you’d like ~ in ways that bring you peace and joy.
* Start talking to strangers. {People are fascinating.}
* Stop allowing people to treat you in a way that is condescending, hostile or unkind. You deserve better. Say so. Teach the people in your life how to treat you. Treat others with the same respect.
* Keep every book you have ever read. Give all your books away.
* You don’t have to be just one thing. You can be a beekeeper and a poet or a carpenter and a philosopher. This is your life.
* You know that wonderful thing that happens when little kids are allowed to choose their own clothes and they wear a pink tutu with a grey and red woollen hat to school? Guess what? You too can choose the tutu. Striped socks. Red shoes. Audacious Christmas sweaters.
* Stop giving and receiving Christmas gifts. Give the money to a food bank or take a vacation or use it for a downpayment on a home. Or buy gifts for everyone you know and/or random strangers.
* Say no. People will not like it at all (they really won’t) and it will be SO good for you. Your no will open up so much gorgeous space for all the YESES about which you feel passionately.
* Say yes.
* Let people be mad at you. Stop going over everything that was said in every single conversation. You don’t always have to be the one to smooth things over. Many things pass all on their own; let this thing pass without your intervention. {I know… this one is terribly hard.}
* Travel the world for two decades. Fall in love with your hometown and never leave.
* Discover the ways in which you can best contribute to your community and serve others.
* Publish 25 Instagram shots in one day. Some days are just so glorious that you want to share… so fill yer boots! So what if some people unfollow you?
* Thank people for their kind advice and then do exactly what you intended to do all along. Or not.
* Advocate on behalf of others. This is how we make the world better. On Amazon.com I recently read a review of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah; the review was entitled, “An unhappy hypercritical bitch writes a moderately engaging but unforgivably long novel”. Calling the author a “bitch” in the title of the review was not an appropriate, kind or useful way to convey information about this novel to other readers. I asked to have this deeply hateful term removed from the title of the review. It took four attempts over ten days for Amazon to respond; in the end, Amazon made the decision to remove the review entirely.
* Do you need all the stuff you have? Give it away. Sell it. Or keep it all.
* Write true stories. You get to define true.
* The next time you find yourself arguing about something, ask yourself if you really care about this issue. It’s okay not to have an opinion about which route you take to the airport.
* You are also entitled to disagree passionately. Burn the metaphorical house down.
* Find the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred.

My New Year’s wish for you is twofold:
1. May you dive deep into your biggest, wildest dreams for your own life.
2. May you find freedom from caring so much about what others think. People will criticize you anyway so why not live the life you really want and let them criticize that. It will be so much more satisfying.

Happy New Year.

With love, milk and cookies,

P.S. I’d love to hear about how you are making your own rules. Please leave me a comment below.

Buffy vs Bella: Raising Girls to Thrive in a Vampire World

On Saturday 24 March, I will be presenting a session at The 4th Annual Rome Conference on Emotional Well-Being at Marymount International School.

Here is the PDF from my session: Buffy vs. Bella: Raising Girls to Thrive in a Vampire World

(Please note that this document is quite large and may take some time to download.)

Also, here is a copy of A Confidence Manifesto for Girls.